health

'I was so angry at the person who gave this to me. Now I'm infected for life.'

“My first feeling was anger. I was angry at the person who gave this to me. How could they not tell me?”

Kate* is 24. She works in health care. And she has just found out she has the sexually transmitted infection herpes.

Kate, it seems, is not alone. It is estimated that one in eight Australians carry some form of herpes, and will for the rest of their lives.

Naturally, you would assume that when Kate sought solace in the depths of the internet after she had been diagnosed, that a wide range of stories would surface. That the personal stories of the 12 or 13 per cent would rear their heads, offering the kind of support you can only find in mutual experience.

But as she soon took fingers to keyboard, mouse to desktop, her search came up blank.

“When I found out, the first place I went was the internet to see if I could find other people’s stories. There were so many medical facts, but there were no stories. I was looking to be reassured, and nothing came,” she told Mamamia.

“I knew it wasn’t a big deal, and that so many people think it’s a bigger deal than it is. I knew it was fine and things would be okay, I just wanted that reassurance.”

Those who have been diagnosed with herpes fall into one of two categories. Type one is usually found around the lips and is commonly known as a cold sore, while type two is usually found around the genitals or anus. However, both types can occur in either area.

In this case, Kate has Type One herpes in the genital area. Since her diagnosis over six months ago, she’s spent a lot time thinking about why so many of those with the disease rarely speak up. And more than that, why there is still so much stigma attached.

“If I’m honest, it’s not physically an issue at all. It’s just some cold sores, and it’s more of nuisance than anything. Probably the most annoying part is that it’s with you for life,” she says of her diagnosis.

"It's the emotional side and the stigma around it that are the hardest parts." Image via iStock.
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"You get used to dealing with the physical side of it all, but it's the emotional side and the stigma around it that are the hardest parts."

Perhaps most strikingly, Kate was infected with herpes while engaging in safe sex. They took all the precautions they were meant to, and yet, she now carries the infection.

Of the moment she realised it was herpes, Kate says her initial feeling was anger.

"I had done some googling, so I had an inkling about what it was, and the doctor only confirmed that.

"Immediately I felt angry. I was angry at the person who gave this to me. How could they not have told me?"

However, it took a single conversation for Kate to realise that the person she had sex with didn't know about it. There was nothing, she believes, they could've done.

"It can spread while you're wearing condom, which shouldn't be surprising considering you can still get pregnant while using a condom. You have more of a chance of getting pregnant wearing a condom than getting herpes. It was just really bad luck."

"All was fine until he told his mates about it."  Image via iStock.
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As someone who now has to carry this with her for life, Kate recognises the impact this will have, and has already had, on future sexual partners. And of all the downsides of the diagnosis, it's this that stands out.

"I had to have that conversation with someone new. He went off and did some research and had a look into it and he wanted to be okay with it. All was fine until he told his mates about it and his mates told him to run. So he did.

"That's what's frustrated me the most and that's what's been the biggest downside of this. If his mates didn't know it would be a different story," she said.

With her friends being "really supportive", Kate wants to speak about her own story for two reasons. Firstly, so the next time someone is diagnosed and go searching for stories, they find this.

And secondly, so that those who have cold sores feel compelled to tell future sexual partners that yes, they too, carry herpes.

"If somebody gets a cold sore and they're about to engage in oral sex, they often don't feel the need to mention it. But the thing is, herpes can be transmitted to the genitals from the mouth or to the mouth from the genitals.

"Its frustrating that someone with genital herpes are expected to disclose the information before having sex, but people with cold sores don't feel the need to. Everyone needs to give up that information," she says.

After all, if everyone knew that cold sores meant you had herpes, Kate wouldn't be in this position today.

*Name has been changed. 

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